Table of Contents
Part II: Primitive Cultures: The Problem
of Their Historical Origin
Climax at the Beginning
of this chapter is to establish two points. First, in that area
of the world from which all existing civilizations have derived
their inspiration and which might, therefore, properly be called
the Cultural Cradle of Mankind, the time lapse from the establishment
of the earliest human settlements to the building of the first
cities was remarkably short. Secondly, when new techniques and
arts and skills make their first appearance they are frequently
at the peak of their achievement and the course of their subsequent
development is one of decline, not evolution.
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Let me elaborate these two points
somewhat. First, the rapidity with which civilization developed
after the Flood, for which there is archaeological evidence,
must have been paralleled by a similar rapidity of development
from Adam to Noah. During this earlier period although archaeological
evidence is still lacking, there were special circumstances which
account for the acceleration and these will be discussed in the
final chapter. My own impression is that when the Flood came,
mankind had not spread very far from the traditional "home"
of the race. With the destruction of all that preceded except
for those elements of that culture which were carried over the
Flood by Noah and his sons, a new start was made. But if an analogy
may be used, the new beginning did not represent the first faltering
paces of a child but rather the steps of an adult who has recently
emerged from an operation intended to remove a sickness which
could only have rendered further progress in civilization disastrous.
It is this circumstance which I believe accounts for the remarkably
rapid transition from Sialk and other Iranian Highland Plateau
settlements to the advanced cultures of Elam, the Indus Valley,
Mesopotamia Palestine, and Egypt.
Secondly, with respect to the evidence
for cultural degeneration it must first of all be admitted that
cultural progress does undoubtedly
take place. Within the
past 75 years, so many advances have been made in the means of
communication and travel, in medicine and in our control of the
environment in general, that it would be foolish to deny it.
Such advances have not all been gain, but fundamentally man's
heart, and not his head, has been the cause of this. But we have
been so bombarded with the concept of evolutionary progress that
the reverse process has been almost overlooked. Hence in the
chapters which follow the emphasis is upon degeneration, not
because we wish to deny a general trend in the opposite direction,
but rather because such emphasis is necessary to produce a balanced
view of history. The almost complete occupation by earlier Christian
scholars with the evidence for degeneration led to a reaction
which prepared the way for an evolutionary philosophy, which
was accepted not merely with openness but with relief and unbounded
optimism. Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at the situation.
Although to many people diagrams
are a hindrance rather than a help, for the few who find them
illuminating the two graphs (Figure 3) have been drawn to summarize
the substance of the previous paragraphs.
Graph I in Figure 3 is intended to represent the currently accepted
view of things. The first man started at an animal level (A)
but with something which enabled him gradually to elevate himself
until he reached (B) after an interval of perhaps 500,000 years.
This point marks what has been called by some archaeologists
and prehistorians the Neolithic Revolution. (43) It is essentially the time at which man is believed
to have established the first permanent settlements by achieving
the domestication of some animals and cereals, thus becoming
a food producer for the first time. Previously man had been a
nomadic hunter. From this point on a steady cultural evolution
took place, occupying perhaps 10,000 years up to the present
In Graph II of Figure 3 we have
an entirely different kind of picture, although the end result
is much the same. At (G) we have the creation of Adam already
removed far above the animal level. He began with certain instructions
from his Creator, certainly in language which lies at the root
of culture, and perhaps in the making of clothes and in the matter
of worship. These legacies and probably others were his from
the very first and (G) starts, therefore, clearly above the animal
line. From there to (H) which marks the time of the Flood was
a very rapid rise. The time interval is a matter of a very few
thousand years, contrasting sharply with the length of the line
AB in Graph I.
43. I think the originator of this term was
V. Gordon Childe. He uses it, for example, in his Man Makes
Himself, Watts, London, 1948, Chap.5, pp.66 following.
At H, much of the cumulative
technology of the pre-Flood world was lost: but much remained
for a fresh start. This is shown by beginning the next curve
a little distance down from H, at K.
From K to J there is a steady rise
but it is not a smooth curve. It is made up rather of a series
of sharp rises followed by a collapse, each new rise starting
at some point on the falling line of the previous arc. This is
the picture which history gives us: it is the pattern of events
which was first seen clearly by Vico (44) and has subsequently intrigued most philosophers
of history including Toynbee, (45) Spengler (46) and others. (47) Each civilization seems to have had a birth followed
by a rapid development to a Golden Age and then a slow decline.
Somewhere in the declining period, another culture takes over
and raises the cumulative thread of cultural development to a
slightly higher level than before, only to pass into a subsequent
descendancy like all its predecessors. In a sense there is evolution,
but it carries with it the inevitable consequence of leaving
behind strewn about the world the decadent remnants of each civilization
-- some of which continued their decline until rediscovered centuries
later by the White Man as he set forth to dominate what he had
previously thought were the uninhabited regions of the world.
Such backward peoples as he found everywhere in marginal areas
were not representatives of prehistoric man striving to elevate
themselves to a higher cultural level, but the sad reminders
of the fact that no civilization however accomplished it may
be, has the power within itself to maintain itself against ultimate
decay. In some instances the process of decay carried man culturally
so low that he approached nearer than ever before to the animal
line. It is a frightening thought, but one that must be faced,
that isolated individuals found now and then as feral children
may even have crossed this line also. (48) History, far from being characterized
44. Giovanni, Battista Vico (1668-1744) was
an Italian philosopher whose chief work was published in France
by Michelet in 1827 under the title Principes de la Philosophie
45. Toynbee, Arnold, A Study of History, Oxford University
Press, 1946-1957, in which the rise and fall of 19 civilizations
is presented in such a way as to suggest that history repeats
itself according to what is almost a spiritual law. Karl Marx
believed the determining factor was an economic one, Ellsworth
Huntingdon that it was a climatic one.
46. Spengler, Oswald, Decline of the West, Allen and Unwin,
47. For a discussion of Vico's views see R. G. Collingwood, "Oswald
Spengler and the Theory of Historical Cycles," Antiquity,
Sept., 1927, pp.311.325; and also "The Theory of Historical
Cycles," Dec., 1927, pp.435-446. A. L. Kroeber has
several worthwhile contributions on the subject of Cultural Determinism
and Historical Cycles. These deterministic trends in culture
he refers to as the "superorganic," American Anthropologist,
vol.19, 1917, p.162-213, This concept was elaborated in many
of his subsequent works.
48. There are possibly four or five fairly well authenticated
cases in comparatively recent times. Reference is made to these
by Susanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, Mentor Books,
New York, 1952, p.87. Also in the works of Ernst Cassirer: see
"Who Taught Adam to Speak?" Part VI in Genesis and
Early Man, vol.2 in The Doorway Papers Series.
by progress from savage
to barbarian to civilized, is in fact more frequently characterized
by regression from civilized to barbaric (albeit, refined at
times) to savage.
In these two graphs, therefore,
we have two contrasting views of man's history, the one presenting
a long, slow, unbroken climb from animal almost to superman:
the other showing the effect of three great facts, namely, that
man was created with a vast superiority over the animals; secondly,
that his ingenuity quickly proved too dangerous and had to be
curbed by the Flood; and thirdly, that what ingenuity he still
retains is constantly subject to the decaying effects of sin
so that his great achievements are never lasting although their
cumulative effect gives the impression of continuous upward progress.
The picture of the growth of civilization
based upon prehistoric research in Europe is one of a vastly
extended and very gradual progress from crude stone implements,
the absence of cereals or domesticated animals, no pottery and
no established settlements -- to more refined stone and metal
tools and weapons, pottery, cereals, domestic animals, and more
or less permanent settlements. This process is said to have taken
By contrast, as already noted,
archaeology has revealed in the Middle East -- but not elsewhere
-- a tendency for people to begin almost immediately to congregate
in larger and larger numbers, at first in camps (at M'lefaat),
soon after in villages (Jarmo, Sialk, Tell Halaf, etc.), then
towns (Susa, Jericho, etc.), and then cities (Al Ubeid, and in
the Indus Valley, and Egypt), all of this taking place in a matter
The difference in pattern between
Europe and the Middle East is significant, for as it has been
noted by several authorities, (49) the "city-idea" is not an Indo-European
one but originated with the non-Indo-European peoples. In fact,
neither Indo-Europeans nor Semites had a word specifically for
"city," in both cases using a borrowed term. (50)
The English word "borough"
and its older form "burg" are both derived from a more
ancient root appearing in classical antiquity in the form "perg-"
(as in Pergamos, for example) which is also reflected in the
Greek word for "tower," namely, purgos. In fact,
49. See on this Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric
India, Penguin Books, Eng., 1950, p.263; H. J. Fleure, The
Races of Mankind, Benn, London, 1930, p.68; A. H. Sayce,
"The Aryan Problem," Antiquity, June, 1927,
50. See Robert Eisler, "Loan Words in Semitic Languages
Meaning 'Town,'" Antiquity, Dec., 1939, pp.449 ff.
"tower," being derived from the same root, indicate
the association between the two ideas. This association is a
very ancient one and is found in the case of Babel, in Genesis
11:4. The root form "perg" has been carefully
traced by Eisler to the more ancient word "uruk,"
the name of a very famous early city. This name in turn is found
in Cuneiform in an alternative form "unuk."
It is a curious thing that while the names of all cities in Cuneiform
are identified as cities by the use of a small determinative
sign preceding the name, unuk is a sole exception. There
must be a very good reason for this, and I suggest the reason
is to be found in Genesis 4:17. Cain, representing only the second
generation of Homo sapiens, is said to have built the
first city and to have named it after his son Enoch. Being the
first city, its name became virtually synonymous with the concept
"city" and when after the Flood a new Unuk was built
it never seemed necessary to identify it with a special determinative
sign. It was not altogether unlike the way in which local people
in the country will speak of going "to town" without
feeling it necessary to be more specific. Everyone knows which
town they mean.
The purpose of introducing this
point here is that it indicates, I think, that when Noah and
his family began to re-populate the Middle East it was only to
be expected that they would proceed within a very short time
to the re-establishment of villages or towns, since city life
had been normal to man from the time of Cain. People who have
always lived in the country and never known urban life do not
automatically proceed to assemble themselves into large aggregations.
It is not, therefore, a "natural" thing that cities
should have appeared so quickly, but they resulted from the circumstances
in which the fresh start was being made, and this is evidence,
indeed, in favour of the record of events in the early chapters
of Genesis. It is a remarkable testimony of the truth of what
might otherwise be considered a very innocent remark in Genesis
4:17, which being thus shown to be fact reveals how short the
time interval really was between the appearance of the first
man and the building of the first city. This is very different,
surely, from the picture presented to us in most textbooks of
prehistory which, of course, are based upon an examination of
the evidence in Europe. Perhaps what took place in Europe must
be accounted for in some entirely different way. This is the
subject, in part, of Chapter 3. In the meantime we may say with
a measure of certainty that the rapidity with which civilization
developed in the Middle East as revealed by archaeology accords
remarkably well with what is stated in Genesis but is in almost
complete contradiction with what one ought to expect if human
evolution were a fact.
we may go even further and say that not only did civilization
appear suddenly, but in many ways its earliest stages of development
tended to be its finest. One of the surprises of early archaeology
in the Middle East was the discovery that in the very area in
which man was supposed to have begun what Crawford has termed
"the conquest of culture," (51) there was no truly primitive stage even in such sites
as Sialk and Jarmo, and in the very lowest levels at Jericho
and Tell Halaf there is evidence of the rudiments of civilized
life though naturally at a simple level. But the domestication
of animals, the growing of wheat, and skill in the manufacture
of weapons and tools is there at the outset. Long antecedent
periods of development from an entirely nomadic food-gathering
kind of life to the community life of these early settlements
is, of course, assumed but is still unsupported by evidence.
A. H. Sayce in 1899, in spite of the fact that he knew nothing
of the subsequent finds in the Iranian Plateau to the north of
Assyria, was still essentially correct when he said, (52)
The history of the ancient East
contains no record of the development of culture out of savagery.
It tells us indeed of degeneracy and decay in time, but it knows
of no period when civilization began. As far as archaeology can
teach us the builders of the Babylonian cities, the inventors
of the cuneiform characters had behind them no barbarous past.
When these words
were penned, it was still confidently asserted by others that
further excavation would change the picture, and that in the
end it would become apparent that this great cultural surge which
marked the beginning of the truly historical period had a perfectly
"normal" (by which was meant evolutionary) development
from a primitive stage such as marginal groups possess. For this
development it was necessary to postulate thousands of years,
for in other areas where Stone Ages were known, progress from
the lowest levels to a high state of civilization was felt to
have taken literally hundreds of thousands of years. On the other
hand, while such sites as Jarmo and others do reveal an initially
simple stage, the time taken to reach a zenith of cultural achievement
can be measured in centuries, not millennia, much less hundreds
of thousands of years, evidently something different was taking
place at the center.
Let us deal with areas, one at
a time, and see what the authorities have to say. Since Egypt
is so familiar to us all (but not because of any priority in
time), let us begin with a review of the evidence
51. Crawford, M. D. C., The Conquest of
Culture, Fairchild, New York, 1948, xii and 449 pp., index.
A very useful summary of technical achievements, but without
52. Sayce, A. H., Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations,
London, 1899, p.270.
from the valley of the
Nile. P. J. Wiseman said in this connection, (53)
No more surprising fact has
been discovered by recent excavation than the suddenness with
which civilization appeared in the world. Instead of the infinitely
slow development anticipated, it has become obvious that art,
and we may say science, suddenly burst upon the world. For instance,
H. G. Wells acknowledged that the oldest stone building known
to the world is the Sakkara Pyramid. Yet as Dr. Breasted pointed
out, "From the earliest piece of stone masonry to the construction
of the Great Pyramid less than a century and a half elapsed."
Writing of this Pyramid, Sir Flinders
Petrie stated that "the accuracy of construction is evidence
of high purpose and great capability and training. In the earliest
pyramid the precision of the whole mass is such that the error
would be exceeded by that of a metal measure on a mild or a cold
day: the error of leveling is less than can be seen with the
naked eye. The conclusion seems inevitable that 3000 B.C. was
the heyday of Egyptian art."
Dr. Hall in referring to this sudden
development says, "It is easy to say that this remarkable
outburst of architectural capacity must argue a long previous
apprenticeship and period of development: but in this case we
have not got this long period."
In the face of these facts the
slow progress of early man is a doubtful assumption, and the
idea that an infinitely prolonged period elapsed before civilization
appeared cannot be maintained.
G. A. Reisner
says that the quality of "the art of the Old Kingdom of
Egypt . . . has rarely been reached by the art of any other period
or region: but authentic specimens are not common, and popular
judgment is usually formed by inferior examples of later
Childe in speaking of early Egyptian pottery remarked: (55)
The pottery vessels especially
those designed for funerary use, exhibit a perfection of technique
never excelled in the Nile Valley. The finer ware is extremely
thin, and is decorated all over by burnishing before firing,
perhaps with a blunt-toothed comb, to produce an exquisite rippled
effect that must be seen to be appreciated.
speaking of the tombs of the first Pharaohs, remarked: (56)
One great tomb after another
was cleared (from 1935 to the end of World War II) each showing
that civilization during the period of the First Dynasty was
far more advanced than we had supposed . . . showing that a highly
developed culture existed in Egypt by 3000 B.C. . . .
53. Wiseman, P. J., New Discoveries in
Babylon About Genesis, Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London,
2nd edition, revised, undated, pp.28, 31, 33.
54. Reisner, G. A., The History of the Giza Necropolis, reviewed
in Antiquity, Mar., 1938, p.104.
55. Childe, Vere Gordon, New Light on the Most Ancient East,
Kegan Paul, London, 1935, p.67.
56. Emery, Walter B., "The Tombs of the First Pharaohs,"
Scientific American, July, 1957, pp.107, 112, 116.
contents of their tombs show that they had a well developed written
language, a knowledge of the preparation of papyrus, and a great
talent for the manufacture of stone vessels, to which they brought
a beauty of design that is not excelled today. They also made
an almost unlimited range of stone and copper tools, from saws
to the finest needles. Their decorative objects of wood, ivory,
and gold are masterly, and their manufacture of leather, textiles,
and rope was of a high standard. Above all they had great artistic
This advanced civilization appears
suddenly in the early years of the third millennium B.C.; it
seems to have little or no background in the Nile Valley. . .
The monumental architecture of
the First Dynasty has been compared to that of the Jamdet Nasr
period in Mesopotamia, and I think the similarity is beyond dispute.
Nasr period is dated around 3500 B.C. by Meek, (57) being the last of four pre-Dynastic periods in Mesopotamia
of which the first was the Al Ubeid period to which reference
is made subsequently.
R. E. Bewberry pointed out that
"the essentials of the Egyptian system of writing were fully
developed at the beginning of the first dynasty. It must have
been the growth of many antecedent ages, yet not a trace of the
early stages of its evolution have been found on Egyptian soil."
(58) Vere Gordon
Childe put it this way: (59)
On the Nile and in Mesopotamia
the clear light of written history illumines our path for fully
fifty centuries, and looking down that vista we already descry
at its farther end ordered government, urban life, writing, and
conscious art. The greatest moments -- that revolution when man
ceased to be a parasite . . . have passed before the curtain
W. J. Perry,
quoting de Morgan, (60)
said, "What appears at a very early date in Egypt is perfection
of technique. The Egyptian appears, from the time of the earliest
Pharaohs, as a patient, careful workman, his mind like his hand
possesses an incomparable precision . . . a mastery that has
never been surpassed in any country."
Of course, archaeologists have
turned up some ancient remains which seem to be more simple and
more like the Paleolithic remains of Europe, yet even in these
sites pottery is found, and of this pottery W. E. Taylor of the
University of Toronto assured us that "crude as it may appear
it was in actual workmanship never excelled. The flint
tools chipped and ground so very carefully are the finest that
have ever been found anywhere!" (61) It may be strange to refer to their
57. Meek, T. J., "Magic Spades in Mesopotamia,"
University of Toronto Quarterly, vol.7, no.2, Jan., 1938,
9 of 22
58. Bewberry, R. E., quoted by C. Urquhart, The Bible Triumphant,
Pickering, London, 1935, p.36.
59. Childe, V. G., New Light on the Most Ancient East, Kegan
Paul, London, 1935, p.2.
60. Perry, W. J., The Growth of Civilization, Pengin Books,
England, 1957, p.54.
61. W. E. Taylor in a lecture given before the Orientals Dept.
of the University of Toronto, Spring of 1936.
pottery as crude and yet as never
excelled . . . but the fact is that Egypt did not possess a source of
clay for good pottery, and thus their best efforts were not comparable
to the pottery of other ancient civilizations. Nevertheless, the best
they ever made was made at the very beginning.
Moving northward from Egypt, towards
the Cradleland, we come to Palestine and then to Syria. It is
fairly certain that those who entered Egypt came either around
the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia following the natural route
which was followed by Abraham, settling first in the Nile Delta
towards the sea and then subsequently settling the Upper Nile
and Ethiopia, or across Southern Arabia to the Horn of Africa
and flooding out across the African continent.
Although it is not usual to look for
the origins of culture in Palestine, it will be valuable in passing
to note a remark by M. G. Kyle with respect to the pre-Israelite
times, when the country was possessed by the Canaanites and the
Philistines and other tribes mentioned in the early chapters
of Genesis. He said: (62)
Wherever it has been possible
to institute a comparison between Palestine and Egypt, the Canaanite
civilization in handicraft, art, engineering, architecture, and
education has been found to suffer only by that which climate,
materials, and locality impose. In genius and in practical execution
it is equal to that of Egypt and only eclipsed, before Graeco-Roman
times, by the brief glory of the period of Solomon.
To the north
lay Syria. The recent excavations at Ras Shamra and more especially
at Tell Halaf have revealed much of the wealth and culture of
the very earliest periods. This is particularly and, for our
purposes, significantly true of the very earliest period at Tell
Halaf. T. J. Meek in discussing the achievements reached by the
people who occupied the site at the very beginning remarked:
Tell Halaf has revealed
the most wonderful hand-made pottery ever found. Although the
lowest strata here are probably representatives of the oldest
culture so far definitely attested, yet it is already clearly
chalcolithic. From various indications we know that metal was
used, although not very extensively. In this period great skill
was shown in the working of obsidian into knives and scrapers...The
pottery of Tell Halaf was made by hand, unbelievably thin, indeed
not thicker than two playing cards, and shows an extraordinary
grasp of shape and decorative effect in color and design. The
pottery was fired at great heat in closed kilns that permitted
indirect firing with controlled temperatures. The result of the
intense heat was the fusion and vitrification of the silicates
in the paint so that it
62. Kyle, M. G., "Recent Testimony of
Archaeology to the Scriptures," in The Fundamentals,
Biola Press, Los Angeles, 1917, p.329.
63. Meek, T. J., "Mesopotamian Studies," in The
Haverford Symposium on Archaeology and the Bible, 1938, p.161.
became a genuine glaze that gives the surface
a porcelain finish quite different from the gloss of burnished ware
so common later.
Technically and artistically the
Tell Halaf pottery is the finest handmade pottery of antiquity
and bears witness to the high culture of its makers.
of the use of metal at this early period, "It should be
noted that in one of the oldest strata in which Tell Halaf pottery
occurs, a copper necklace-bead has been found." (64)
The people who came to Tell Halaf
and thus began the civilization of Syria and Palestine, evidently
arrived from two directions. Some seem to have come from the
north, from Anatolia, and possibly some from Mesopotamia due
east, i.e., from northern Babylonia. We must look further to
the east, therefore, for the roots we are seeking.
Turning to the Mesopotamian plains,
the story is exactly similar to the story of Egypt. The greatness
of Egypt is monumental. The greatness of Sumerian civilization
is of a different nature. Despite the fact that they had no stone
with which to erect memorials of their culture as Egypt erected
theirs, yet once the search had begun it became increasingly
apparent that not only was Sumerian civilization equal in every
respect to that of Egypt, it was prior. The earliest culture
of the long series which culminated in the great cities like
Nineveh and Babylon is termed the Al Ubeid Culture. Of these
people Vere Gordon Childe wrote: (65)
The authors of the Al Ubeid
culture cannot have sprung from the marsh bottom, yet the culture
itself shows no sign of having developed locally from any more
primitive Mesolithic forerunner.
C. J. Gadd remarked:
The Sumerians possessed
the land since as far back in time as anything at all is seen
or even obscurely divided, and it has already been remarked that
their own legends which profess to go back to the creation of
the world and of men, have their setting in no other land than
their historical home. . . . But the shapes of the earliest
flints are not those of a pure stone age, nor has any certain
evidence been found in Iraq of a population so primitive as to
have no knowledge of metal.
And again, subsequently,
he said: (67)
Works of art which astonish
by their beauty have been found (not least at Ur itself) to be
the relics of the first, not the last ages. Nothing but the good
fortune that they were discovered by regular
64. Mallowan, M. E. L., The Excavations
at Tell Chagar Bazar and an Archaeological Survey of the Habur
Region, 1934-35, Oxford, 1936, reviewed in Antiquity,
Dec., 1937, p.502.
65. Childe, V. G., ref.55, p.145.
66. Gadd, C. J., The History and Monuments of Ur, Chatto
and Windus, London, 1929, p.24 and p.17.
67. Ibid., p.27.
excavation could have avoided the ludicrous misconception
of their date. . . . Gold is the material of their possessions
and the symbol of their superfluity. In the flourishing days and at
their lavish court, the arts of manufacture rose to a perfection and
beauty in their products which was never seen again. The articles made
were, indeed, of much the same kind as those of later ages, but they
were at this very early period marked by a richness and splendor rather
of Egyptian sumptuousness than the supposed sobriety of the River-lands.
These deposits amaze by their riot of gold: silver also is there in
great profusion evidently nothing accounted of.
Woolley (68) came
to the conclusion that "so far as we know, the fourth millennium
before Christ saw Sumerian art at its zenith." And Childe
likewise remarked upon the same phenomenon, (69) "These (recent discoveries) suffice to show
that, even more than in Egypt, civilization has reached a very
high level by the end of the fourth millennium B.C., that was
not surpassed during the whole of the pre-Sargonid epoch."
And Wiseman pointed out: (70)
This discovery is the very opposite
to that anticipated. It was expected that the more ancient the
period the more primitive would excavators find it to be, until
traces of civilization ceased altogether and aboriginal man appeared.
Neither in Babylonia, nor Egypt, the lands of the oldest known
habitations of man, has this been the case. In this connection
Dr. Hall writes in his History of the Near East, "When
civilization appears it is already full grown." And subsequently,
"Sumerian culture springs into being ready made." And
Dr. L. W. King in his book Sumer and Akhad remarks, "Although
the earliest Sumerian settlements in southern Babylonia are to
be set back in a comparatively remote past, the race by which
they were founded appears at that time to have already attained
to a high level of culture."
Yet it is not possible to push
back the habitation of man in the Mesopotamian plain vast millennia
into the past, for the very simple and conclusive reason that
the more southern Mesopotamian land must have been formed within
the last 10,000 years or so. We know that owing to the peculiar
nature of the rivers in bringing down silt, and depositing it
at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, the land has been formed
gradually during the past few thousand years, and the land is
still being added to by this means. Ur of the Chaldees was once
on the edge of the Persian Gulf, and is now over one hundred
miles from it.
J. L. Myers
pointed out that the shore line has been advancing rapidly within
historic times: Eridu, for example, which was a chief port of
early Babylonia, lies now 125 miles from the sea. (71) If the present rate of
advance, about a mile in thirty years, may be taken
68. Woolley, Sir Leonard, The Sumerians,
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1928, p.44.
69. Childe, V. G., New Light on the Most Ancient East, Kegan
Paul, London, 1935, p.19.
70. Wiseman, P. J., New Discoveries in Babylon About Genesis,
Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London, 2nd edition, revised, undated,
pp.28 and 29.
71. Myers, J. L., Dawn of History, Williams and Norgate,
London, undated, p.85.
as an average, Eridu may have begun
to be mud-bound about 1800 B.C.
T. J. Meek in a lecture given at
the University of Toronto stated that "the Sumerian culture
springs into view ready made, and there is yet no knowledge of
the Sumerians as savages: when we find them in the fourth millennium
B.C. they are already civilized highly. They are already using
metals and living in great and prosperous cities." (72) Citizens stamped their
correspondence with cylinder seals that were rolled over the
soft clay. Such seals were beautifully carved in the very ancient
times with animal figures that portray motion. The later seals,
even those of only a few centuries later, are vastly inferior
from an artistic point of view. Inspiration belonged to the earliest
ages, not to the later. (73) When compared with their present descendants, if
brain size means anything, according to Sir Arthur Keith even
in this they were superior. (74)
Now the record of Genesis tells
us that those who first settled in Mesopotamia entered the land
"as they journeyed from the East." This implies that
they did not originate there; and since this piece of historical
information is presented to us some time after the Ark had landed,
and after men had begun to spread abroad somewhat, it seems fairly
certain that these people had come down on the eastern side of
the Zagros Mountains towards the site of Susa. Here they effected
a settlement before going on towards the west and there "finding"
a plain, the plain of Mesopotamia. Susa thus stands in a parental
or at least a prior relationship to the Al Ubaid culture exactly
as the excavations show. We ought in theory to be one step nearer
the beginning when we have arrived back at Susa.
Yet even here, the story is repeated.
H. G. Spearing wrote of Susa: (75)
The earliest colonists at Susa
were well civilized before they left the country of their parenthood
and arrived there. For in their burial ground outside the city
walls are found the bronze hatchets of the men and the mirrors
and needles and the ointment vases of the women; there are also
relics of delicate fabrics finely woven on a loom. . . .
The pottery is wonderfully thin
and hard, not much thicker than a couple of post cards, and it
rings like porcelain, though it is not so
72. Meek, T. J., in a lecture before the Orientals
Dept., University of Toronto, Fall of 1936.
73. Frankfort, Henri, in an article on Khafaje in the Illustrated
London News, Nov. 13, 1937, pp.840, 841, gives some photos
of such seals.
74. Keith, Sir Arthur, "Physical Anthropology," Science
Progress, Oct., 1936, p.333.
75. Spearing, H. G., "Susa, The Eternal City of the East,"
in Wonders of the Past, vol. 3, Putnam, New York, 1924,
transparent. The forms are simple and graceful;
they were produced on a rudimentary pottery wheel used with a skill
that looks like the inherited experience of many generations of craftsmen.
Nearly all the bowls and vases
were elaborately decorated either inside or outside with strange
designs, most of which have no similarity with other designs
found in other parts of the world, so that we have no clue to
the country where these potters learned their art, though we
can be fairly sure that they brought it from some center of civilization
where it had been undergoing a long period of development.
How inevitable this conclusion always seems
Where shall we look now for the
origins of the people who created this pottery? It seems we cannot
look further to the east, though in this direction lies the Indus
Valley Civilization. But this culture owes its origin to a people
who themselves manifestly came from the west, and who shared
much with the creators of the Sumerian culture. Nevertheless,
the earliest levels at two sites, Changu Daru and Harappa in
the Indus Valley, are remarkably reminiscent of the earliest
levels at Tell Halaf in Syria, and in keeping with the fact that
the Tell Halaf settlers arrived there from the north and east
towards Ararat, it is clear that the Indus Valley people came
from somewhere in the same direction. Thus Ernest Mackay (76) said, "There seems
no doubt that . . .we must look to the Iranian Highlands for
the region whence civilization was brought to India."
In his report to the Illustrated
London News, Mackay remarks upon the finds at the earliest
levels in Changu Daru, (77) and describes the extraordinary way in which the
city was laid out in blocks with draining systems and underground
sewers. Some of the drain pipes are illustrated in his article
and he remarks of them that they "are quite modern in design
. . . some having spigots which fit into each other, and some
conical shaped so that the smaller end fits into the larger end
of the next one."
He tells of a hoard of beads found.
Some of the beads made of steatite
were astonishingly small; a quantity had been kept for safety
in a small jar, and when placed end to end they ran to 34 to
an inch. Their holes were so tiny that they could only have been
threaded on a hair, and how these beads were made and bored it
is hard to comprehend. . . .
As at Mohenjo Daro (another Indus
Valley site) practically every house had its bathroom and latrine
from which the water ran into the street drains and was thus
carried well outside the city. Indeed, the draining system was
remarkably well planned, every street being supplied with two
or more drains, built, like the houses, of burnt brick. A number
of pottery drain pipes, some of which were found in situ,
76. Mackay, Ernest, "Great New Discoveries
of Indian Culture in Prehistoric Sind," Illustrated London
News, Nov. 14, 1936, Plate I.
77. Ibid., p.860, Fig.II.
78. Ibid., pp.860 and 894.
testify that these ancient people were expert
sanitary engineers; moreover, falls were arranged so that there should
be as little splashing as possible, and when a corner had to be turned
the bricks were carefully rounded off to reduce friction. The drain
pipes are quite modern in design; except for being made of porous pottery,
they would well serve the same purpose today.
As a matter
of fact, anyone who has had experience with a septic tank disposal
system will know that in reality this porosity was a great advantage,
for much of the content of the system is bled through the pipe
walls into the surrounding soil, thus relieving the load at the
Some remarkable seal amulets were
also found at the lowest levels, with illustrations of elephants,
oxen, and single-horned Urus ox. These seals are beautifully
carved, with almost perfectly formed reproductions of the animals
they portray, showing absolutely correct proportion and musculature.
Copper and bronze instruments and weapons abound everywhere.
How well such sanitation and such
household furnishings contrast with the modern eastern villages
whose inhabitants have the unpleasant habit of casting all refuse
into the street for the rain to wash away. But where did these
people come from? Dr. Mackay says we must look towards the Iranian
highland plateau. Wherever they came from, it seems they entered
the Indus Valley already cultured. It is amazing to find at two
of the earliest sites, Harappa and Changu Daru, evidence of such
artistic taste and skill, coupled with a remarkable engineering
At Mohenjo Daru, another site in
the same complex, was found a male dancing figure and the torso
of a nude female figure which, according to Childe, (79) are "modelled with
a liveliness of attitude, and the musculature and contours of
the bodies delineated with an attention to detail and verisimilitude,
found nowhere else before classical Greek times. Indeed so modern
is the treatment that the sculptures have been attributed to
the Greco-Bactrian age." Their artistic taste was no less
highly developed than their technology.
But if these settlers came from
the highland zone surely we ought to find their remains there?
It seems that the site of Sialk is such a village. Excavation
of this site was undertaken by a French expedition from the Louvre
Museum, beginning in 1933 and working continuously till 1938,
and with further work in the area since World War II. In charge
of the expedition was R. Ghirshman who has reported his
79. Childe, Vere Gordon, "India and the
West Before Darius," Antiquity, Mar., 1939, p.10.
work in numerous journals and recently
given a very comprehensive account in a volume entitled "Iran."
In this, and in earlier papers,
he set forth some of his findings as follows. The site is quite
near the famous city of Kashan known for its rugs, and not far
south of Teheran the capital of Iran. It was first occupied in
the fifth millennium B.C., at which time the evidence shows that
the climate of the region was just changing from a very wet one
to an arid one. The central part of the Iranian highland plateau
had apparently escaped the glaciation which had engulfed the
rest of Europe but had been experiencing a very, very heavy rainfall,
and this had led to the formation of "an immense lake or
inland sea" into which many rivers ran from the high mountains.
As this large, but shallow, inland sea dried up it left in its
place many swamps which became grassland and savannah. Game was
abundant and man "moved in first to hunt and then to settle
permanently." He had, by this time, already domesticated
certain species such as the ox and the goat.
Ghirshman also found that the occupants
were highly artistic. To use his own words: (81)
Never before in the systematic
explorations which have brought to light the remains of extinct
civilizations have such objects carved out of bone or of stone
been found in this region. The Sialk excavations have now revealed
the existence of a marvelous art of carving on bone, which had
already made noteworthy progress at the period we are now considering.
Among the remains of the dwellings, we found recently a whole
series of flint holders, with handles finished off with an animal
head or a carved human figure. . . .
The figurine which decorates the
handle of one of these tools may be regarded as the oldest carved
human image ever found in Western Asia. The statuette, which
perhaps represents a chief or a priest, has a little cap on its
head; round the hips is a loin-cloth, the upper part of which
is rolled under to form a sort of belt. The arms of the figure
are crossed, and the torso is slightly bent forward.
It is not possible to believe that
an art capable of creating such an object as this statuette was
in its initial phase. The artist reveals awareness both of proportions
and of technical approach. The way in which the attitude of the
man is treated, his muscles, his clothing, show close observation,
and also much practice and skill. . . .
soon domesticated also pigs, dogs and the horse, this being the
first evidence of the existence of the latter in Iran at such
a remote period. Vere Gordon Childe remarked on the surprising
fact that at the earliest levels the inhabitants were also spinning
and weaving to make fabrics, though the fibers they used have
80. Ghirshman, R., Iran, Penguin Books,
Eng., 1954, 368 pp., Index, illustrations.
81. Ghirshman, R., "At Sialk: Prehistoric Iran," Asia,
Nov., 1938, p.646.
been identified for certain. (82)
Ghirshman also referred to the earliest known records in the form of simple
tablets which were clearly to be related with the earliest tablets found
by a French expedition in the lowest levels of Susa ‹- thus establishing
what he considers a direct ancestral link from the north to the south.
It seems therefore that Sialk represents
a settlement made by the people who, travelling further towards
the south, established themselves at Susa some little time later.
But Ghirshman would go one step further, for he views the people
of Sialk as being related also to the Indo-European civilization,
and to that of the Phrygians of Asia Minor, a people of the Indo-European
race closely related to the Illyrians who immigrated there from
Thrace, which "entitles us to regard the inhabitants of
Sialk as belonging also to the same Indo-European family."
(83) It is only
to be expected that there should be evidence at this early time
of the close association of all three of the sons of Noah. It
would almost seem as though they were still together at this
time, though doubtless their families had greatly enlarged. But
shortly afterwards they began to divide. The children of Japheth
went towards the north and settled up into Asia Minor and into
Europe. The children of Ham went south and coming into the Indus
Valley established themselves there. But they also went via Susa
round into Mesopotamia arriving at the southern end soon afterwards
to establish the Al Ubeid culture. Perhaps the children of Shem
went towards the west and then down into northern Syria, settled
at Tell Halaf and later turned towards the east again and to
northern Mesopotamia where in the time of Nimrod they fell under
the domination of the Sumerians from the south.
In speaking of Sialk, Childe is
careful to note how quickly the people who occupied it moved
forward in their civilization. He wrote: (84)
The earliest culture found at
Sialk can be matched at other sites upon the plateau and northward
up to Anau in the Merv oasis in Russian Turkestan [the route
followed by the children of Japheth?]. At Sialk a second phase
can be seen in the villages built on the ruins of those described.
The houses are no longer built just of packed clay, but of molded
bricks dried in the sun. Food-gathering is less prominent in
the communal economy: horses have been added to the domestic
flock. Shells are brought across the mountains from the Persian
Gulf. Copper is commoner, but it is still treated as a superior
sort of stone,
82. Childe, Vere Gordon, What Happened
In History, Penguin Books, Eng., 1946, p.64.
83. V. G. Childe also refers to the evidence for the existence
of a Japhetic people dwelling in early times in the highlands
from the Zagros Mountains westward (New Light on the Most
Ancient East, Kegan Paul, London, 1935, p.18).
84. V. G. Childe, What Happened In History, Penguin Books,
Eng., 1946, p.64.
worked by cold hammering. Equipment is made from
local bone, stone and chert, supplemented by a little imported obsidian.
But special kilns are built for firing pots.
Then with Sialk III the village
was removed to a new site close by the old one and watered by
the same spring. Equipment is still mainly home-made from local
materials. But copper is worked intelligently by casting to make
axes and other implements that must still be luxuries. Gold and
silver are imported, and lapis lazuli from northern Afghanistan.
Potters appear who make vessels quickly on a fast spinning wheel,
instead of building them up by hand. And men use seals to mark
their property. Finally Sialk IV is a colony of literate Elamites.
. . .
In other words,
life at the very beginning in these places was necessarily simple,
but it seems that it was not only technically proficient it was
also artistic and therefore cultured. And it developed extremely
From Sialk it is now customary
to go back to the lower levels at Jarmo and to other sites in
Iraqi Kurdistan which appear to represent an earlier stage, a
stage without pottery (roughly contemporary with and similar
to the lowest levels of Jericho even though it was already a
fortified town by this time). (85) But can we really be sure that such sites are prior
merely because there is no evidence of pottery? Is this not a
biased interpretation? There is really no absolute reason for
placing these cultures "earlier" other than the argument
that they ought to be earlier merely because they appear to be
simpler. The supposed law of evolutionary development may demand
this interpretation, but in itself the evidence is quite neutral,
until something turns up which positively established priority.
When Noah and his family stepped
out of the Ark somewhere in this general region, they certainly
must have had a knowledge of metals, for by this time metal-working
was already centuries old (Genesis 4: 22).
Now, it is argued that sites without
pottery in this area must be earlier. The criterion is the absence
of pottery. However, it is known from other sites, especially
in Greece, (86)
that the use of metals can precede the use of pottery,
pottery vessels being subsequently based upon metal prototypes.
In such sites, although the metal originals have disappeared,
they must have existed in order to give rise to what are manifestly
substitutes. It follows from this that in those periods
85. For a useful summary of these associations
and time correlations, see Seton Lloyd, Early Anatolia,
Penguin Books, Eng., 956, pp.54.
86. Excellent illustrations of such pottery will be found in
E. J. Forsdyke, "Marvels of the Potter's Art," in Wonders
of the Past, vol. 2, Putnam, New York, 1924, Plate at p.426.
Such forms occur widely in early Heliadic sites as at Asea, Gournia,
Korakou, Vasiliki, etc. Even the rivets are sometimes reproduced
when vessels were commonly made
from metal, there may have been an absence of pottery, and this absence
would be evidence, not of a lower level of technology, but rather of a
higher one. Thus the reason why Jarmo and the lower levels of Jericho
are considered to be more primitive, i.e., the absence of pottery, may
be quite unsound. In fact, when pottery does finally appear in these sites,
it takes a form which could easily be the result of inspiration derived
from the use of metal wares. The fact that no metal wares were found at
these lower levels is not too significant for the simple reason that such
vessels would not be easily broken and would not be thrown away. The point
of this discussion is simply that those sites which by reason of their
lower culture are considered to be antecedent, may actually be later:
they may be, in fact, settlements established by the first offshoots from
the main body on the highland plateau.
Thus although Jarmo and early Jericho
are assumed to be older than Sialk, I do not think the point
is established. Possibly they were, but the assumption rests,
as stated above, on the lower level of cultural development as
gauged by what was left behind by the inhabitants. The dating
for Jarmo established by Braidwood is in any case not so very
ancient. He gives the figure 6000 B.C., but adds that this date
is likely to be reduced, when the evidence is more fully assessed.
(87) Jericho is
dated by Kenyon at 8000 B.C., (88) but Zeuner who was chiefly responsible for the investigations
on which the figures were based states "most emphatically"
that caution is needed in accepting these C-14 dates. (89)
Such then is the picture. Somewhere
in the Iranian highland there settled a small group of people
who needed little time to develop sufficiently to create the
later culture-complex which characterized the upper levels at
Sialk. From here, or from some similar sites in about the same
stages of development, emigrants set out towards the West to
settle at Tell Halaf, for example. Others went south, dividing
into two bands, one passing around the lower end of the Zagros
Mountains where they came up into the plains of Mesopotamia from
87. Braidwood, Robert J., "From Cave
to Village," Scientific American, Oct., 1952, pp.62
ff. This is an excellent summary with useful illustrations and
graphic presentations of the evidence as he sees it. To the uninitiated,
the matter is clearly settled. But Miss Kenyon disagrees.
19 of 22
88. Kenyon, Kathleen M., "Ancient Jericho," Scientific
American, Apr., 1954, pp. 76. In her article, "Some
Observations on the Beginnings of Settlement in the Near East,"
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Jan.-
June, 1959, pp.35 ff., she explains why she believes Jericho
is older than Jarmo and criticizes Braidwood's interpretation
of the Archaeological evidence from Jarmo -- which shows how
difficult it is to be certain about sequences at this early date.
89. Kenyon, Kathleen, Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute, Jan.- June, 1959, p.41.
the south, and the other turning
to the east, finally establishing themselves in the Indus Valley.
From Mesopotamia and Northern Syria
it seems, more adventurous spirits travelled on until they reached
Lower and Upper Egypt; and all this took place within a remarkably
short time. (90)
This is manifestly a gross over-simplification,
for some of the settlers, in lower Mesopotamia, subsequently
travelled around the southern boundary of Arabia and entered
Africa via the Horn. And the Japhetic branch of the family of
Noah quite possibly spread at a much more leisurely pace toward
the north (into the Caucasus) and towards the west (into Asia
Minor and on into Greece and Europe), only much later returning
towards the south and east into Persia and into the Indus Valley.
Yet even though this reconstruction is artificial in its simplicity,
the time factor is not likely to be changed very much. The tendency
has been, rather consistently, to reduce rather than to extend
the over-all chronology. (91)
All the initial movements seem
to have taken place within a period of about 1,000 to 1,500 years,
showing how quickly the transition was made to the cultural level
at Al Ubeid, for example. And while Al Ubeid stands at the beginning
of Sumerian civilization, within a few hundred years the Sumerians
had achieved a level of technical proficiency greater than that
to be found in many parts of Europe just prior to the Industrial
90. A very stimulating and concise evaluation
of the evidence for these early migrations was given by M. E.
L. Mallowan in "Mesopotamian Trilogy," Antiquity,
June, 1939, pp.159-170.
91. In discussing one of the papers presented at the Anthropological
Symposium (ref.29), Grahame Clark made the remark regarding new
techniques of dating, "They seem to suggest that the Magdalenian
cave artists, far from ending at 18,000 B.C., probably ended
at more like 8,000 B.C., and far from beginning anywhere near
so early as 50,000 B.C., began about 15,000 B.C., or perhaps
even later. I conclude by asking a question which I hope Hallam
Movius (see ref.18) will take up. If the only date in the Zeuner-Milankovitch
system (on which ref.92 is based) we are in a position to check
by means of C-14 is found to be as badly wrong and as grossly
over-inflated as this, how much reliance should we place on the
long-range dating for the early phases of the ice age? I only
ask this question. I don't know the answer" (Appraisal
of Anthropology Today, Chicago, 1953, p.78). On this see
also, Oakley, Man, Oct., 1951, p.142. The same authority
said subsequently (p.37), "C-14 dating seems to suggest
that the Upper Paleolithic developments came rather later than
we thought, and this only heightens the impression of a very
great speed-up in cultural development and differentiation."
A. L. Kroeber (p.39) strongly reinforced Clark's
words, underlining the change in view regarding both Old and
New World chronology. In the Illustrated London News, Sept.
14, 1935, Henry Frankfort suggests that "the earliest periods
of civilization in Mesopotamia are more closely related and extend
over a shorter period of time than is generally assumed."
is inevitably faced with the question of what had been happening in the
rest of the world that progress had been so fantastically slow, if it
really had occupied a time of some quarter to half a million years to
reach the lowest levels at Sialk. Such a long period with so little progress
is almost impossible to conceive of, especially when one realizes that
the art of the European caves attributed to Cro-Magnon Man was according
to Zeuner in the process of development some 72,000 years ago. (92)
In fact he admitted his own amazement at the slowness of development in
some cases. Thus in speaking of cultures during the Last Interglacial
he wrote: (93)
The interesting feature of this
evolution of the hand-ax industries is the small amount of change
observed, notwithstanding the huge time span covered. Judged
by the standards of, say the upper Paleolithic, the evolutionary
rates of the Crag "industries" and of the Abbevillian,
covering about 60 thousand years each, are small; but smaller
yet is that of the Acheulian which lasted through 300 thousand
years of which something like 200 thousand years appear to have
been occupied by the "middle stage." This conservatism
of the Acheulian is one of the most striking phenomena in the
chronology of the Paleolithic.
It is strange
indeed. Observe the sequence: for perhaps a quarter of a million
years intelligent men, to all intents and purposes apparently
much like ourselves in many respects, advanced their culture
scarcely at all. Then appeared a settlement in the Iranian highlands
near the traditional site of the landing of the Ark, which within
a period of perhaps 1,500 years developed into a culture in the
Mesopotamian plains, which in turn, within a thousand years,
gave rise to a series of high cultures scarcely paralleled until
comparatively modern times. (94) And finally, after this sudden burst of activity
lasting possibly a further 1,500 years or so, which witnessed
some of the finest cultural achievements in Babylonia, Egypt,
and the Indus Valley which the Middle East has ever seen, the
process was once more slowed up until many prosperous centres
decayed and disappeared, and much of India, Africa, and Europe
remained in a state of semi-barbarism till
92. Zeuner, F. E.. Dating the Past, Methuen,
1958, p.299, fig.81.
93. Ibid., pp.285 and 288.
94. We now have a new "twist" in the interpretation
of the evidence. The fact that there is no paleolithic phase
in the Middle East cannot, of course, be taken to mean that man
was civilized almost as soon as he appeared. This is not "evolutionary
thinking." So it must be assumed that the absence of the
earlier phase is due to the fact that it never was the Cradle
of Mankind -- never was a centre of hominid dispersion. The fact
that all lines of migration lead back here is simply discounted,
and the evidence is completely re-interpreted to support current
assumptions. See F. Clark Howell, "The Villafranchian and
Human Origins," Science, vol.130, 1959, p.833, col.
well on toward Roman times, and
in some instances till much later The sequence takes the form, then, of
an unbelievably long time with almost no growth; a sudden spurt leading
within a very few centuries to a remarkably high culture; a gradual slowing
up, and decay, followed only much later by recovery of lost arts and by
development of new ones leading ultimately to the creation of our modern
world. What was the agency which operated for that short period of time
to so greatly accelerate the process of cultural development and produce
such remarkable results? And is the long prior period of slow "progress"
merely a figment of imaginative thinking resulting from a mistaken interpretation
of the facts? Is it possible to account for Paleolithic man in some other
way? Could he have been descended from rather than ancestral to the people
who so quickly created the cultures of the traditional Cradle of Civilization?
22 of 22
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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I think this is so. The sudden
rise of high culture in the Middle East is most readily accounted
for by reference to certain explicit statements in the early
chapters of Genesis, and to some reasonable implications based
upon them. And further, I am convinced that one can only account
for the extraordinary slowness of early cultural development
in Europe and elsewhere by reviewing those cultures in the light
of what we actually know from the history of primitive societies
since the White Man first made contact with them and began to
record his observations about them.